TOTAL RECALL Review

I never really knew how great of an impression Arnold Schwarzenegger left on Hollywood, but for at least the past four years there has been some type of summer blockbuster that either continued a series he began or a remake hoping to cash in on his originals success and widespread adoration. While Terminator Salvation, Predators, and last years remake of Conan didn't exactly live up to anyone's expectations set by those originals this years Arnie tribute is easily the best of the bunch. While I was aware of the original film I never had any real interest in seeing Total Recall until the other night in preparation for this Colin Farrell re-make. While I found it to be classically cheesy in the best ways the Austrian actor makes things over-the-top cheesy it did indeed ask some interesting questions and as with any film based on a Philip K. Dick short story delve into its interesting premise with entertaining action and clever techniques. While I enjoyed this years update of the film more than the original simply due to the look of the updated special effects and overall quality of acting I can see where loyalists to the original will find faults with what is ultimately an unnecessary remake. Though it may be without cause, it has come to be and so I will take it in with summer action glee. There is plenty here to enjoy, though it does run out of steam about half way through and from there on repeats itself with one too many chase scenes and ten too many Kate Beckinsale comebacks.

Lori (Kate Beckinsale) and Chancellor Cohaagen
(Bryan Cranston) do away with the resistance.
For the first forty-five minutes we are strapped to our seat. Director Len Wiseman (the Underworld films) is a pro at orchestrating intricate action scenes and opens with a bang here before settling into the exposition his newly envisioned world requires. We meet Farrell's Doug Quaid and his beautiful wife Lori (played by Wiseman's real life wife Kate Beckinsale) as they go about their day to day and it becomes ever the more clear that Quaid is not content with his routine life that has him and his factory-like co-workers traveling in a tunnel through the middle of the earth for their cheap labor jobs building robot cops. You see, in this re-make their is no Mars, what we instead are given is an earth that is now uninhabitable because of chemical warfare with the exception of two areas: the British islands and a colony that was formerly Australia. Quaid and many others with his mid to low social status live in the colony but travel to the British islands or federation that is controlled by Chancellor Cohaagen (a criminally underused Bryan Cranston) who is seemingly the leader of the free world. This all becomes much more important when harmless ole Quaid goes to a place called Rekall, a company that turns your dreams into real memories. Quaid is unable to avoid the temptation his ambition seeks and so when he visits Rekall one day after work things take a turn for the unexpected and Quaid lives out his "fantasy" of being a secret agent that is now on the run from Cohaagen and the robots he helped build due to the fact he joined the side of an underground resistance that includes the girl from his dreams (Jessica Biel) and is led by a mysterious and also underused Bill Nighy.

Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) goes under at Rekall.
While the changes from the original are plenty and as a matter of fact, really understandable, there is one thing that changed I wished they would have kept the same. I don't know why it brought me so much annoyance, maybe the fact Beckinsale was given more work because her husband is in charge of the thing, but like Sharon Stone, she should have been killed off early on. Other than this, Mars isn't really necessary and the creativity the early scenes contain with the advancement in technology was impressive. The everyday appliances seemed logical next steps from where we are now and the sprawling city scape of the federation is easily the most impressive thing about the film. I hate to even criticize a movie on its lack of good storytelling methods when the thought and design of the universe these characters exist in has so clearly been labored over and thoughtfully rendered. Still, while the film may look nearly flawless the script is far from it. After that engaging first hour or so we start to see the pattern of Farrell and Biel being chased in a car, or through elevator shafts or on the transport through the core of the earth. These fast paced and overlong sequences wouldn't be so tiresome if they contained any sort of thrill or tension, but they simply exist to put in more action; the story is hardly moved along. Only when our protagonists come to a halt do we get a piece of interesting dialogue or a confrontation that deals with the questions the great set-up poses. The best parts feature Quaid deducing whether what is happening around him is real or fabricated, where he has to decide who is truly his friend and his enemy. These don't happen often enough and the movie doesn't keep the truth as vague as it should, but when they do we catch a glimpse of what could have been had the movie not got caught up in its own action.

Melina (Jessica Biel) has to fend for herself as a part
of Matthias's resistance against the Chancellor.
In many ways the effect that this re-make leaves you with is very much the same as the original. It is too much, it really is. Everything about it, from the bombastic set pieces to the extravagant fight scenes. The difference here is that everything looks much better. But while everything may be more slick in the new Total Recall there is the obvious absence of any kind of soul. While Farrell has always been an intriguing actor and gives the character more depth as to the line between fantasy and reality that he is walking what the actor lacks is that undeniable charisma Schwarzenegger brought to a man that felt betrayed by his own mind. We see in Farrell's performance that he is confused by the whole thing, baffled even, but in the original Quaid is clearly wounded by what his life has become and it is out of desperation that he searches for the truth rather than going along with the events that present themselves as Farrell's version does. It goes back to the idea that while there is better execution, maybe even more creativity in the justification for Quaid's story in the re-make we never feel emotionally connected with any of the characters. I literally can't remember one memorable aspect about Jessica Biel's Melina and she is the main love interest in the film. No matter how well you dress something up, the lasting resonance with an audience will undoubtedly come from the feeling the film left them with. Total Recall leaves you with nothing more than a shrug and maybe the occasional recollection of how cool something looked. It will take much more than that though to make me want to retain any memory of the film.